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Tony La Russa’s indefinite absence, latest turn in White Sox’ 2022 drama, sparks obvious concern

Vinnie Duber Avatar
August 31, 2022

Throughout this disappointing White Sox season, Tony La Russa has had to sit in front of recorders and microphones and explain why one star player after another has had to be out of the lineup or away from the team with an injury, often unable to provide an exact date when they might return.

Wednesday, someone else had to deliver a similar message about La Russa.

The White Sox’ manager will be indefinitely absent from his duties as he makes his way to Arizona, where he will undergo further medical testing with his personal doctors.

There wasn’t much more than that offered from the team, so hold onto your “what happened?” questions for now.

We don’t know what happened, other than USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reporting that La Russa will see heart specialists. Andrew Vaughn, one of a few players who spoke before Wednesday’s game, must have seen that on Twitter, too, the only person in the White Sox’ employ to even guess that it might have something to do with that part of La Russa’s body.

The White Sox, as an organization, are holding back on elaboration until there’s more information, which is why we didn’t hear from Rick Hahn on Wednesday.

All we know came either from a press release or from Miguel Cairo, who will be filling in as the team’s acting manager until La Russa is able to return. According to La Russa’s bench coach, there was no specific incident – such as fainting or something like that – triggering this absence shortly before the start of Tuesday night’s game and a next-day return to Arizona. Cairo even said La Russa described himself as feeling fine Wednesday and that the two have been talking and texting about lineups.

Much like some of La Russa’s updates on players this season, there’s no telling when the South Side skipper will be back or what it even is that’s bothering him enough to remove arguably the world’s most competitive man from nightly competition.

But as La Russa often says when a player goes down with an injury, the concern is about the person and their well being, and certainly the same must apply in this scenario, if not even more so considering this is a health issue, not a baseball injury. And that’s what La Russa’s players kept echoing Wednesday, revealing an opinion of the man inside the clubhouse that differs drastically from the one held by fans outside it.

“I’ve loved playing for him,” Gavin Sheets said. “He’s taught me a lot. He’s been a great mentor for me, especially as a young player. From the first day I came up, he’s kind of brought me under his wing, showed me the ropes and learned from him the whole way. He’s been an incredible mentor for me. I want to see him back as soon as possible.”

“He cares way too much, he cares so much about the game,” Cairo said. “He cares about the clubhouse, the players. I’m telling you, we love him. I love him. I played for him, I work with him, and he’s got so much knowledge about the game. Sometimes I’m like, ‘How can you think so many things in that head?’ He’s so smart.”

“That’s our leader,” Vaughn said. “It’s definitely tough. It’s scary.”

Fans long ago selected La Russa as the ultimate scapegoat for a high-hopes season gone wrong. But throughout the year, his players have continued to make comments like the ones above. It was just over the weekend that José Abreu said:

“We all love him. His sense of unity and his sense of family is something that is around us, is around this team. It doesn’t matter what the people from the outside say, the fans can say whatever they want to. It doesn’t mean that what they say is true.

“We support Tony. We appreciate Tony and the effort he put to put us in the best position to succeed.”

Though certainly a health issue was never the way anyone wanted it to happen, this is all a valuable reminder that La Russa is an actual person, in addition to being a character in this White Sox drama.

That drama, though, has taken another unforeseen turn with La Russa now out of the dugout – and not because the “Fire Tony” chants worked.

Fan opinion of the manager from a baseball standpoint and any concern over his health are obviously separate, though they are now part of the same story.

Cairo, meanwhile, will take over with his team still technically in a playoff race. The White Sox aren’t doing themselves any favors in closing the gap with the division-leading Guardians, with losses in 10 of their last dozen games, and the apathy La Russa so feared has started to set in. But math remains math, and until that buries the White Sox, the AL Central crown and/or a wild-card berth still remain in play.

Cairo, you might remember, was at the helm for the team’s most memorable win of the Second La Russa Era, calling the shots during the Field of Dreams game. He’s lost in his two chances since, including Tuesday night’s defeat against the Royals. But now he’s tasked with winning after five months of nowhere near enough winning under La Russa, whose history as a championship winner was supposedly the most valuable thing he brought to this team as manager. Now, the South Siders could be navigating a situation in which he’d be most helpful without him, should his absence drag on.

“You saw me changing pitchers like crazy yesterday,” Cairo said, asked what he’s learned from La Russa over the last two years. “He really prepares himself. I’ve learned how to prepare myself. I didn’t ask too many questions because he’s so into the game and I watch him and the way he does it.

“I cannot be Tony La Russa. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s got a lot of wins. But I’ve learned so much from him, the way he handles himself, the way he handles the clubhouse, the players.

“Believe me, he’s going to be watching. He’s going to be checking. Already, I asked him how I did yesterday, and he said, ‘You did fine.’”

We’ll see how many chances Cairo gets to top “fine.” He was unsure of his status as the team’s acting manager beyond the next day or two, simultaneously expressing his optimism that his time in the manager’s chair would not cover the entirety of the season’s final 33 games.

“He will be back.”

Hopefully he’s right, because it will mean La Russa’s health issues are not serious enough to keep him away from the dugout. While plenty of chanting fans made it known they wanted La Russa gone, there’s no way anyone wanted this to be the reason.

And so we wait and hope for the best as the story of an unexpected White Sox’ season takes another unexpected twist.

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